On the ropes again, Magnus Carlsen escaped with a draw, but he still trails Sergey Karjakin, the challenger, by a point with only three games to play in regulation

Magnus Carlsen, the World Champion, walked the knife’s edge in Game 9 and survived, but he still trails Sergey Karjakin, the challenger, by a point with only three games to play in the best-of-12 match.

Karjakin, who is from Russia, leads Carlsen, the reigning champion from Norway, 5 points to 4. The match, which is being held at the South Street Seaport in New York City, has a prize fund of about $1.1 million.

Karjakin had White in Game 9. After playing 1 d4 for the first time in the match in Game 7, he switched back to 1 e4 for Game 9. As he had before, Carlsen replied with 1… e5 and again steered for the classical Ruy Lopez to maximize his chances to fight for a win with Black. Given that he was trailing by one point in the match, Carlsen chose one of the most aggressive continuations for Black: 6… Bc5.

The players followed a known path for many moves and Carlsen eventually sacrificed a pawn in order to create an unbalanced position in which he could break up the pawn cover surrounding Karjakin’s king.

Chances seemed about equal, with Karjakin having a very slight advantage. But he managed to improve the placement of his pieces and gradually increased the pressure on Carlsen. As the position became more and more complicated, and as the amount of time on each player’s clock left to make the first time control at move 40 dwindled, both players made some small errors.   

At move 39, Karjakin played the sharp 39 Bf7, which seemed to give him a big edge. But Carlsen was able to dodge the worst and survive to a pawn-down ending in which Karjakin had almost no advantage. Commentators and grandmaster spectators believed that if Karjakin had instead played 39 Qb3, Karjakin’s winning chances would have been significant.

The game continued for 74 moves and six hours before Karjakin offered a draw. In part, that seemed to be a psychological ploy by Karjakin – an attempt to make Carlsen “suffer” a bit before letting him off the hook.

In the press conference afterward, Carlsen said, “There were many difficult moments, but I was happy to survive.”

Carlsen still has the task of having to win one more game to square the match, but he will also have White two more times, including in Game 10, which will be Thursday, Nov 24, at 2 PM EST. The game can be viewed live on WorldChess.com, the official site of the match.

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Dylan Loeb McClain is a journalist with more than 25 years of experience. He was a staff editor for The New York Times for 18 years and wrote the paper’s chess column from 2006 to 2014. He is now editor-in-chief of WorldChess.com. He is a FIDE master as well.